Casket, ca. 1680
Michel Redlin (German, documented 1688)
Amber, gold foil, gilded brass, wood; 11 7/8 x 13 x 8 1/4 in. (30.5 x 33 x 21 cm)
Walter and Leonore Annenberg Acquisitions Endowment Fund, 2006 (2006.452a–c)
Following ancient traditions, in the Renaissance and Baroque periods amber, "the gold of the Baltic sea," was regarded as a substance of mythical origin and magical power. This parade casket is one of the most important and best preserved examples of amber work to have survived from the seventeenth century. Its architectural design and decoration are related to a drawing for a similar casket signed by Michel Redlin, who is documented as an "amber carver" in Gdansk in 1688. In this casket, Redlin incorporated nearly all types of amber—translucent, opaque, and the so-called milky variants—to emphasize the interplay of art and nature that his learned patrons considered the most desirable characteristic of a treasury, or Kunstkammer, object. With ingenious carving, turning, delicate engraving, and other refined techniques, he transformed the natural material into a masterpiece of craftsmanship. Landscapes and pastoral scenes were engraved into much of the surface from behind. The base section, with a drawer, has a wooden core; the two tiers above are decorated with an ambitious system of rectangular or oval sections consisting of whisper-thin plates of transparent amber. When the casket is illuminated, an entire palette of sunset colors delights the viewer's eye.